So far, only EU states and Europol are allowed to access databases at Interpol, but soon Frontex and the new public prosecutor’s office will be allowed to do so as well. The EU Parliament has drawn red lines for the negotiations.
As an intergovernmental organisation, Interpol aims to facilitate international police cooperation in the field of terrorism and serious crime. With 195 member countries, it is the largest organisation of its kind in the world, run by the General Secretariat in Lyon, France. However, it is an informal, i.e. private association, because Interpol is not linked to any other international organisation.
Interpol already cooperates with law enforcement agencies of the European Union at various levels and in various projects, including „integrated border management“ in addition to the organisation’s actual areas of responsibility. This cooperation is now to be carried out under a new agreement. The EU Commission already presented a proposal for this in the spring of last year. However, the negotiations are at a standstill.
Parliament wants to exclude use for death penalty
After the EU Commission’s recommendation in April 2021 to start negotiations with Interpol, the matter initially stalled for a long time. It was not until more than a year later that the European Parliament, as co-legislator, finally adopted guidelines for the negotiations. The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) thus set red lines in various areas, including data protection, legal remedies and the transfer of data.
For example, the purposes for which data can be transferred to Interpol are to be clearly stated and misuse for other purposes is to be prohibited. The bodies responsible for data protection should be independent. Data originating in the EU should not be stored by Interpol for too long. If they are transferred to third parties, they must not be used there for the imposition or execution of the death penalty. Interpol should also take measures to withdraw access rights to its systems from Russia and Belarus.
In addition, the EU Parliament calls on the Commission to negotiate a binding procedure for dealing with Interpol wanted persons requests. Interpol is supposed to prevent the misuse of alerts for the political persecution of opposition figures. This has been known to happen in the past to authoritarian states such as Russia and Turkey, but also to Germany.
Delay provides breathing space for data protection
However, the planned conclusion of the Interpol cooperation agreement by the end of 2022 no longer seems realistic. The EU Commission is not making public exactly where the negotiations have stalled. As far as is known, not even a technical draft has been agreed among the member states, which is why the political negotiations within the Council cannot begin. However, Interpol is also said to have procrastinated. The Interpol General Assembly, traditionally held in autumn, is causing further delays, because the organisation’s already slim staff is involved in the preparations for the conference.
The agreement is also important for linking Interpol databases with new EU information systems. Next year, the „Entry/Exit System“ is to be launched in all EU states, which collects biometric data of all travellers and compares them with relevant databases. Interpol files are also to be queried in this way; a corresponding pilot project ended in April.
Without a framework agreement, however, this interlinking is not legally possible. Therefore, the EU Commission is actually under great pressure to conclude the agreement. However, from a data protection point of view, this is a breathing space for the commissioning of its „Entry/Exit System“. After all, this is probably the world’s second largest retention of biometric data, the use and processing of which will now be limited for the time being.
Interpol keeps 19 databases
According to its own information, the EU is one of the largest donors to Interpol. This gives its member states access to the 19 databases created there, with 124 million entries in total and 20 million queries daily. Among Interpol’s flagships are the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database (SLTD) and the Travel Documents Associated with a Wanted Person Database (TDAWN).
Close cooperation also takes place with the EU police agency Europol, and a corresponding cooperation agreement with Interpol is now 21 years old.
Other agencies, including Frontex and the EU police college CEPOL have so far only concluded working agreements and are therefore not allowed to access Interpol files. With the envisaged framework agreement, this is supposed to change. Then the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, founded in 2017, could also access data from Interpol.
Biometrics and „artificial intelligence“
In the area of „terrorism“ alone, Interpol is currently pursuing four new projects, including, for example, the use of military and intelligence information by the police and judiciary. Interpol also operates a biometrics database with DNA traces, fingerprints and now also facial images.
For investigations, Interpol maintains various analysis files that may also contain biometric data. Interpol has set up one of these files on so-called foreign fighters, in which the Federal Criminal Police Office in Germany also participates.
Finally, Interpol is conducting research to improve technical procedures, including the use of „artificial intelligence“ in law enforcement. This includes the EU-funded project „Real time netwOrk, teXt, and speaker ANalytics“ to fight organised crime. German partners are also participating in this with the decryption agency ZITiS, the arms company Hensoldt and two universities.
Image: Interpol data could soon be queried at every police and border check (Interpol).